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Attawapiskat chief on hunger strike has ‘humble and achievable’ vision: Joe Clark

Former prime minister Joe Clark looks on after receiving an honorary degree from the University of British Columbia during a graduation ceremony at the University in Vancouver, B.C., on Thursday May 24, 2012.

DARRYL DYCK/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Former prime minister Joe Clark says he's concerned Canada and its first nations are "headed in a dangerous direction."

Mr. Clark issued a statement after meeting Saturday with Chief Theresa Spence, who has been fasting for more than two weeks in an effort to persuade Prime Minister Stephen Harper to meet with her and other first nations leaders over treaty issues.

Mr. Clark, who was a Tory prime minister from 1979 to 1980, says friends of his in the first nations community had suggested he meet with Ms. Spence, chief of a remote reserve in Northern Ontario.

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He says National Chief Shawn Atleo managed to get him an invitation to visit Ms. Spence and also accompanied Mr. Clark on a visit to Victoria Island near Parliament Hill, where Ms. Spence has taken up residence during her protest.

Mr. Clark says he found Ms. Spence to have a "humble and achievable" vision and adds that those no longer in active political life may still have a role to play in helping discussions resume.

Chief Spence stopped eating solid food on Dec. 11.

Mr. Clark says he appreciated having an opportunity to listen to Ms. Spence's concerns.

"My experience has been that direct and honest dialogue is always useful and sometimes essential, particularly in dealing with issues as complex and multi-faceted as the relations between first nations and Canada," his statement read.

"Chief Spence expressed a humble and achievable vision — one which I believe all Canadians can embrace."

Ms. Spence's fast has drawn attention to current first nations issues but there have also been calls for her to abandon the fast.

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Federal Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq joined other federal officials Friday asking Chief Spence to accept a meeting with Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan but she rejected the recommendation.

The government points to a meeting it held last January with first nations leaders as proof it is serious about improving their relationship, and adds it has spent millions on aboriginal health, housing and education.

But aboriginal leaders say they are being left out of the discussion the Harper government is having about how best to develop Canada's lucrative natural resources.

A series of protests over the last two weeks under the banner of Idle No More were in part spurred by the recent budget bill which removed federal oversight over waterways without consulting aboriginal groups who depend on them for water and food.

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